Wikileaks and the Thought Police

“We are the clear logic used to unveil wrongdoing. The general public, clouded by misleading information mostly by the media with a political agenda, fails to see and understand this wrongdoing. Because of this, those who do the wrongdoing escape unpunished. Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it.” – Anonymous spokesperson for the group Anonymous, which brought down Visa and Mastercard Web sites because of the companies’ withdrawal of services from free speech target

Anonymous is the group that published emails from Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! account back in 2008, when she was a candidate for vice president. Wrongdoers conduct state business in personal email accounts to skirt public records laws. This works as long as no one guesses your password, takes screenshots of your inbox, and then sends an email to your assistant informing her that your password has been changed because the old one is now common knowledge on the Internet.

What they did to Visa and Mastercard is not actually hacking. They bombarded the companies’ Web sites with too much traffic, paralyzing the sites and effectively crashing them. This is called a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS), and one Anonymous member from New Jersey has already been sentenced to 366 days and a $37,500 fine for “unauthorized impairment of a protected computer” for his role in attacking a Scientology (wrongdoers) site. He was 19.

A 16 year-old Anonymous member has been arrested for participating in the latest attacks in the Netherlands. Anonymous is a loose organization of chat room pals who think of themselves as Internet freedom fighters, so they tend to be young, smart, and reckless. They also tend to choose principle over pragmatism, even when that means annoying PostFinance, the banking arm of the Swiss post office.

In case you didn’t read it, the last sentence of that Guardian article I just cited reports that Julian Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden because he’s afraid of “being handed over to the U.S., where senior politicians have called for him to be executed.” I don’t know if Mike Huckabee counts as a senior politician, but he’s certainly got mass appeal in the red states, and believes that traitors should be punished by death. It’s a very old tradition, not to be questioned. Whether Assange owes any loyalty to the U.S. in the first place is irrelevant.

Never mind that it is perfectly legal for non-government individuals to share information regardless of its classified status. If you have not explicitly promised to conceal classified information you are not under obligation to do so, and freedom of speech and freedom of the press are protected under the First Amendment (although I suppose that doesn’t technically apply to non-American citizens living in Europe, either).

Never mind that the Congressional Research Service report by Jennifer K. Elsea indicates that there is “no statute that generally proscribes the acquisition or publication of diplomatic cables.” Never mind that no publication has been successfully prosecuted in the United States for publishing classified government documents, ever, ever. Ultimately, the question Americans must ask themselves is this. What do we believe in?

I spoke to a former CIA field agent who told me that intelligence he gathered in the Foreign Service and communicated secretly was sometimes published in the local newspapers a few weeks later for everyone to read. If he had revealed it, his career would have been over, but there were no consequences for journalists. Certainly not from the mighty and supremely just U.S. government. Are we so afraid of losing face that we will sacrifice our own freedom and compromise our sacred principles to punish an entrepreneurial online publisher in another country?

This line of thinking inevitably leads to a deeper and much more serious question. If the government cannot protect itself, how can it protect us? Thus, we draw the conclusion that our forefathers drew. We must protect it. We must protect it from those who are willing to discard our freedom to hide their personal shame. We must protect it from the all-too-human fault of wishing to appear better than we really are.

We must protect it from the Thought Police, who are closing in at this very moment, reading this over your shoulder, claiming they only want to send you more customized advertisements, the ones who don’t want us to communicate, who want us to fear human interaction as we fear death, who spread the terror of religious war, animal flu and sexual contact.

We must protect it for our children, who deserve a free Internet, a world where people can tell the truth without fear. Anonymous is a bunch of kids playing pranks, but they are ethically right in standing against the subjection of Internet free speech to monetary might, which is basically what happened to Julian Assange.


4 replies »

  1. I tend to agree with most of this except the (by internet standards) the old saw that Anonymous is nothing but a bunch of kids. Guess what. Not true.

    We have lawyers, doctors, janitors, students. We cross all class and racial lines. We are the meaty body of the internet. We are everyone and anyone. We’re your neighbors. We’re that guy in the cubicle behind you.

    What we’re not, is a “bunch of kids playing pranks.” Yes, there are pranks and kids involved but that is not to totality of what it is to be anonymous.

    But, please do continue to spread the inaccuracies about anonymous. It’s important because if our opposition thinks we’re just a bunch of kids hopped up on Batman and pirate movies, so much the better.

    Being underestimated is usually a Good Thing in war. Kind of sucks when you’re interviewing for a job, though.

    • @imominous: You raise an really interesting issue. Obviously it’s hard to get a solid demographic fix on a group that’s, well, anonymous. Can you tell us more about who’s involved without exposing people?

  2. Thanks for responding. I’m pretty psyched, actually. Changes the whole dynamic of the article. Following Sam, can you expand on some of the things you said? What does it mean to be part of Anonymous? Why do you do it? When you say “being underestimated is usually a good thing in war,” what war are you talking about? Anything else you’d like to say?